Celery 20 days after transplant and was under fleece for 16 days

June 2021 summer follows a cold spring, new sowings, bindweed, rabbits, compost qualities, and no dig events

Much of May has been cold, and this followed a remarkably cold April. The legacy is plant growth a long way behind what one expects at this time. May’s final five days have been warmer, afternoons averaging over 20C/68F.  I picked as much asparagus in those days as in the whole month previously. I am finishing this piece on 31st May and just at dawn I can look out of the window and see the hedgerows dripping with hawthorn blossom. It really is such a lovely time of year. Today is forecast 24C/75F, and I have some watering to do, flowers and beans to transplant, lettuce to sow.

May was wet as well as cold, with 112mm/4.5in rain. I often wonder what it would be like to manage this small market garden, if I was digging and rotavating. I look at the dusty or muddy, weedy surface of my dig bed and it frightens me! Soon I hope to have some data about its soil, compared to the adjacent no dig bed. Early indications from Jane, a scientist doing regular measurements, suggest the no dig bed has a lot more carbon in the soil compared to the dig bed, from the same amounts of compost added to each.

Springs compared

The first two photos below are 19th and 30th May. You can see new plantings of calabrese broccoli on the left of each photo, and to the right are broad bean plants. Neither are anywhere near harvest stage even now, not to mention carrots and beetroot still being very small. The third photo is 2nd June last year!

2020 was a warm spring, so it’s not a totally fair comparison. I have found over the years however, that one tends to always be looking back one year, as a kind of measuring stick. Just now, it’s painful.

Under cover plantings

I hope that most of you have now managed to plant up your covered spaces, with no more threat of any frosts, except in parts of Canada! I am noticing that cucumbers I’ve planted two days ago look much healthier than ones planted 12 days ago, when it was much cooler.

The greenhouse is noticeably warmer than the polytunnel, and plants in there look stronger, especially aubergines and melons which crave warmth. In both places we shall soon harvest the garlic, around 12th June. Outdoors will be late June for garlic harvest.

Sowing methods, and varieties

Sowings now include swedes/rutabaga, carrots, beetroot for winter, lettuce, celery, cabbage, broccoli for autumn and spring (two different types – see my latest video on spring broccoli), and French plus climbing beans.

The most reliable way to sow all of this is undercover, and my latest online course 3 has a lot of details about this, for each vegetable.

Then even when you have your seeds and trays and decent compost, things can go wrong! It turns out that my Czar runner beans which I harvested last October, were not quite mature due to the damp autumn weather and a forced early harvest. The result is zero emergence from resowing them, compared to 100% germination of the borlotti beans.


Compost quality

The best source of compost is what you can make. Scrounge as much material as you can, especially at this time of year when there is a lot of grass and weeds, especially in rural areas. Many of you will not have access to such riches and you then need to buy compost.

Problem is that bought composts may contain unwanted ingredients, and most of you will know about the persistent pyralid weedkillers, which just don’t go away. The photo shows evidence of it in purchased green waste and mushroom compost I have been using in the new area. It looks a low-level contamination, which I suspect may be the case in many purchased composts. I just replied to a follower on FB who has it in 30 tons (!) of manure, and is being visited by Corteva.

I have sent emails galore to Corteva & others, who visited here but fobbed me off, as they do others. They blame no dig (!!!) and tell people to rotovate and dig in the manure. Their horrible poison is indeed ‘dissipated’ by soil microbes, and this works when it’s left on the surface, with the microbes undisturbed below, able to move up into it. They have even been offering people money in compensation, but one man they did not pay and he is taking them to court. Another they offered money on condition he said no more on social media. See Growth Collective on Twitter.

New land

I apologise if sometimes I make it look too easy to grow vegetables. I know from experience that it’s not.

This spring the happenings in my new land beyond the existing garden, are a reminder of many difficulties. In no particular order we have a lot of rabbits, bindweed, and dandelion seeds. Plus I am still worried about the compost and whether, or rather how much it is contaminated by pyralid weedkiller.

Apart from one trial bed, there are no wooden sides on this plot. This video has more about that.

New polytunnel

My aim with the new tunnel from First Tunnels, is to use it for mixed planting. It’s 10 x 15′ and has a small propagating bench. The foundation tubes have foot square anchor plates in a foot-deep hole in the ground and the sliding doors are excellent. Rabbits like to run around it!


Yes there are some, what a relief. First up, there is an afternoon visit here Sunday 6th June, with the Biodynamic Association. Tickets are available to all, you don’t need to be a biodynamic gardener. There will be interesting people here!

I am speaking at Groundswell no till farming conference in Hertfordshire, north of London, on 24th June. The event is huge and runs for three days from the 22nd. The roster of speakers is truly amazing and I feel honoured to be among them. It’s all about soil quality, low input farming and healthy food.

My next no dig talk is at Charleston garden festival in Sussex on 1st July, 3pm. A very different setting to the Cherrys’ farm! Sorry just saw when getting the link that it’s fully booked.

Jekka McVicar, the one and only, is holding a Herbfest at her farm near Bristol in early July. I am there Saturday 3rd, shall give a no dig talk. Looks a good day with interesting people and lots to see. Jekka will also be here on 15th June making a video with us about Homeacres herb garden.

It’s RHS Hampton Court, 6th-11th July, more details next time.

63 thoughts on “June 2021 summer follows a cold spring, new sowings, bindweed, rabbits, compost qualities, and no dig events

  1. Thanks for the information on Dale compost, my greenhouse tomatoes grown in dale compost are looking very poorly in comparison to the ones I planted in the garden, and I have some distortion in my green peppers. I have a question I have a bag of compost left and I am not sure what to do with it, if its contaminated and I mix it with homegrown compost am I going to be spreading it around my garden? Should I cut my losses and bin it? Thanks for your help.

    1. Oh dear, that is bad and I don’t know, because we can’t be sure what it contains to cause this problem. I hope you could send them a photo.
      And probably bin it 🙁

  2. Dear Charles,

    Thank you for sharing the video with Jekka. Could you please let me know the Phd study about bee health in relation with Lamiaceae plants? It was really inspiring to hear about it, but I couldn’t find the study so far.

    Thank you in advance,


  3. Grew climbing french beans this year, thought it would make picking easier , rabbits ate all the lower leaves! Brassicas under butterfly netting work really well, I am waiting for the rabbits to chew their way in now Many thanks for all your good advice no dig is ideal for us older gardeners.

  4. Hi Charles,
    I was interested to read, in one of your responses, that you’d had an issue with a Dalefoot organics product.
    We live in Cumbria and have supported Dalefoot since they started selling. Last year, we ordered a pallet of their products. Most of it, we used ourselves and some we took down to my mother-in-law in Surrey.
    At both locations and under various usage, stunted growth and plant loss were almost immediately noticable, and so it continued. It was very unexpected due to our previous success with Dalefoot.
    We reached out to them and received no response. Could it be that they grew too quickly for their supply of bracken & wool and have bulked with green waste from other sources?
    This year we have top-dressed everything with our own compost. (Prompted to up our compost game by the Dalefoot incident of 2020.) We are thankful for improved results!
    I hope Dalefoot have attended/are attending to the issue.

    1. Oooh this is awful. Like you, I simply did not expect it and could hardly believe my eyes, until it happened for a second summer, with a different stock of compost. I am even more shocked that they did not reply to you.
      I have had the same issue that although they reply, they miss the point and avoid taking any responsibility, or explaining where this poison came from. Initially they said there had been some manure in it, and I asked why it did not say this on the sack. He replied that it was listed on the website! Yes I think they grew too fast.
      Another worrying issue is that the Soil Association failed to pick any of this up or to involve themselves in any discussion. It’s very disillusioning.

  5. Hi Charles,
    Not sure where to ask this but here goes:
    Have you ever compared the vertical soil profile of a mature “No dig” bed to one where compost has been applied but dug into the bed? Then compared those to one of a control profile for the soil present in the garden but not under cultivation. I wonder what the organic horizon would appear like to the eye and whether any horizons present indicate gradually blending or definite layering.
    Allied to the above – would “no dig” profile have any similarity to for example, soil found in a woodland clearing?

    1. Hi Peter. This would be interesting to see, apart from the damage to soil in the process! It’s a long time since I’ve dug a hole in one of my beds and perhaps this winter I shall do that. Previously I have noticed that there is no definite boundary layer between darker soil near the surface and less dark below that

      1. Hi Charles,
        A gradual boundary between the top layer and the material below rather than an abrupt interface would be an interesting subject to investigate – esp. if this would be found in soils originating from different sources (clays versus sands / marls / chalk etc.). Agreed, a shame to disrupt an area by digging a investigative hole / trench – but science requires broken eggs sometimes to create the omelette. Appreciate your care in replying. Regards, Peter.

  6. Certainly a season so far where ‘patience is a virtue’!

    I sowed tomatoes for growing in soil in late April, transplanted them out in the last few days in May and this lovely warm spell has pushed them all on spectacularly. The couple of very early sowings I did are now showing red tomatoes (mainly because I had to keep them indoors for longer as April was so cold!) Not quite going to beat my record of 9th June for the earliest ever harvest of a tomato, but it was a close run thing.

    All the beans I sowed slightly later than normal have also benefitted from the heat, establishing beautifully.

    Where I put tomatoes and courgettes in a week earlier, major damage accrued due to cold, rain and wind and I had to resow courgettes (already in the ground) and let the bush tomatoes in the soil recover (which they are doing well).

    Looking at the garden and the allotment now, I wouldn’t know what sort of spring we had!

    Amazing what 10 days of warm/hot sunny weather can do.

  7. Hello Charles

    My outdoor garlic leaves are now fairly covered in rust for the first time ever – thanks to all the rain we had in Somerset I presume. I have had a rummage around the bulbs and have to say they seem the smallest ever. Is it best to just pull the lot anyway now? On the plus side the spring cabbages were fab!

    No rabbits here thankfully, main pests are pigeons and ants, ants and ants!


    1. Sorry to hear that and yes to harvest, if there is very little green leaf, I would harvest them. And you can compost all the rusty leaves. I do that, and here I have less rust than usual, plus very little on hardneck garlic

  8. Hi Charles,
    Where can I source the bacterium that you spray onto your brassicas? I am guessing that you probably buy it in larger therefore cheaper quantities than your average allotmenteer. What sort of shelf life does it have once the packet/container is opened?

      1. Thank you, I have some now I found the link after the message had sent 😊 do you use or have used nematode treatment for slugs am having a bit of a pasting at the moment but don’t want to go down the chemical route all new beds on the edge of our Kea plum orchard so plenty of hiding places for the little darlings 😳

        1. I have never used or needed to use the slug nematodes. However I can see that in some situations, they may be useful as a one off, to reduce the population.
          Another way is to go out at dusk with a torch and knife, or bucket.

  9. Hi Charles,

    Dissapointing to hear that you are too experiencing more aminopyrlid problems. We too have been hit by it from 3 different batches of commercial compost. So far it’s affecting mostly lettuce, tomatoes, mustards, chard, spinach, melons and cucumbers. It has been very disheartening to discover that the poor root development which I had initially thought was due to poor drainage is most likely due to aminopyralid contamination. It comes as no surprise that the Dow Chemical spin off company is paying ‘bribe’ money to silence the problem they have helped create.

    We are a fledgling market garden business in our second year, follwing your amazing no-dig system. We are supplying food to our local community, but this year is proving to be a serious challange due mainly to the issue that has revealed itself over the past month as pyralid contamination. As part of our closed loop system we are too making compost from all the green waste we generate, and the incredible support of neighbours and the local pub passing on their food scraps. My main worry is I have no idea whether we are inadvertantly helping to spread aminopyralids back into our compost system by adding any affected plants, and individual leaves etc that get cleared to go to the compost. I’m worried these additions will only create an endless contamination loop in our system? I’d be interested to hear what you’re doing with your contaminated plants and should we be composting them into our system or not do you think?

    Sorry to burden you with so many questions, but I feel this situation is only going to get worse for growers and a greater knowledge of what we can collectively do together to resolve this is the only way forward.

    Many thanks again for your time and inspiration Charles. x

    My other concern is whether pulling the whole rootball from the ground will help to isolate the spread or as you mentioned is it likely the pyralid will have been carried by soil microbes into other parts of the soil previously unaffected and show up in later in ‘clean’ transplants. My fear is

    1. Hello Ken, and I do appreciate your deflated mood. The growth problems are certainly made worse by how the authorities are so unconcerned.

      On the other hand, I have come to appreciate the amazing ability of soil microbes to dissipate somehow this poison. I think and hope that quite a few of your worries will be answered in a positive way by a cleaning process in the soil, happening all the time as long as microbes are healthy and undisturbed, and moist. Hence the irony of Corteva’s insistence to keep rotovating poisoned soil! It’s so bad you could not make it up.
      In compost heaps the poison appears to remain for a long time so I would not put affected plants in your heaps. But the soil is fine to stay in place, which has their roots in. When you manage close loop, things will keep improving.

      My only concern would be if there are even other herbicides, because I think the pyralids are not the only issue. I had an example of bad and ongoing contamination in a small area from compost supplied by, of all people, Dalefoot organic!

      1. Thanks for taking the time to respond Charles. This is some positive news at least. I will move the veg waste from the compost to a dormant section of land and be mindful of what we’re putting on the heaps from now on.

        I too have also wondered about other chemical poisons that are contaminating commercial composts. It seems so endemic that I’m not sure how it can be removed from the chain. When sourcing animal manure from local farms etc. to add to compost heaps we’ve found it hard to know exactly whether the source of bedding and grazing are herbicide free.

        Just wondering about the skill required in home made compost to grow seedlings in, and how you’d go about it. Would we need to sift out the large materials and then mix in sand/course sand for drainage, and how could growers achieve something that is as effective in quality to give seedlings the best start without a chemistry degree (or am I over complicating my thinking of this?

        Many thanks again!

        1. Yes, to make your own putting compost is not obvious, especially when using smaller module cells, which need a high nutrient profile. You would need to make great compost then sieve out larger pieces, add say sand for drainage, and add something for extra food…

  10. I have a fairly large plot on the go (about 150 square metres), very much inspired by you and your methods Charles. We have electric rabbit fencing all the way around and it’s brilliant, I really think it’s worth the investment.

    1. Thanks Fiona, sounds interesting!
      I don’t like such fences but this time I may have to install something like that, however the area is large and awkward so we shall see.

      1. Beware! We installed electric fencing to deter rabbits from our no dig beds but this morning I discovered two dead hedgehogs, each curled up into a ball being zapped repeatedly by the fence. Desperately sad to lose them. Our fencing is rows of single wire, with the lowest being at about 75mm off the ground. Seemed to be working against rabbits. I’ve since read it should be min 150mm to allow hedgehogs through but that would probably allow rabbits through too! We also have hares in the field next to the beds. I may try raising the lowest row to above 150mm for the hedgehogs, and netting individual vulnerable crops against the rabbits and hares in case they do get through. Someone gave us a roll of sturdy deer netting – 2” square plastic – which I’ve laid over some crops in the past and seems to work but it’s awkward to handle when needing to weed etc. May have to just go ahead and buy lots of hoops and netting as Charles has. It’s not easy or cheap to allow some wildlife in and keep other wildlife out!

  11. Great post – glad to see everything jump into life now the warmth has arrived!

    Just a quick question about composting – I have poison hemlock on my allotment, and although I love the look and the flowers, I’m a bit concerned about my toddler getting hold of it – do you think it would be alright going into my compost?

  12. Hi Charles
    I am hoping to create some no dig beds next year (doing my research now) after we have had some big works done in the garden. Part of this work will be the removal, to bare earth, of an old run-down garage. The site for the no dig beds is likely to be partially over this ex-garage area and partially on standard garden.
    Do I need to do anything to the ground that was below the garage first, or can I just start creating a no dig bed immediately?
    I have tried to find the answer by searching online, but am not finding anything relevant. Thank you for any help, I am learning so much from your site 🙂

    1. Hello Emma and that is nice.
      The under-garage soil will be dry and not too lively, but will recover when in contact with life enhancing organisms.
      If somewhere in your garden you could find and move a little healthy topsoil to spread on that area, maybe just 5 cm, it will help life to re-establish. Then place compost/ organic matter on top of all your area for growing vegetables and flowers. It will take a year or two for normal life to resume!

  13. Hello Charles,
    Regarding crop protection, I have had fine veggiemesh over my brassicas to keep aphids at bay. Can I replace the mesh with butterfly netting now or is the mesh still needed?
    Best wishes,

  14. Hi Charles. I’m growing my tomatoes in pots of compost in the conservatory so of course not in touch with soil / soil organisms. Compost is a mix of bought in and well rotted manure, bit of soil. I’m assuming I will need to feed them with tomato fertiliser, is that right?
    And thanks very much for all your sharing of our challenging spring.

    1. Thank you Sheridan and you are absolutely right! They have a restricted root run and will definitely need some feed, from about a month’s time and onwards

  15. Hi Charles,
    Due to poor conditions (light / temp) my Zebrune shallot seed germinated in March and April, grew about 5 cm with spindly leaves then withered – Have just sown for the third time today. Should I expect a harvest – or is it totally too late? Leeks – now they and the spring onions are going well!

    1. Sorry to hear this and I think it’s too late for any bulbs of note. I wonder if the seed was fresh, considering hope your other alliums are growing well.

      1. Thank you for the reply Charles.
        I have read and heard that a fair number of people have had the same problem this year. Seed should be good according to the packet dates. Since the original name is “Cuisse de poulet du Poitou”, maybe they appreciate a “printemps doux” rather than the rude conditions delivered this year. Shall see what nature delivers! Regards Peter.

  16. Hi Charles this is my first time in growing on an Allotmont that I took over in September last year, after some hard work clearing old beds and covering with weed membrane I started with garlic and onions in November then seedlings for the spring and all’s coming on well but and a big but I have lots of weeds among all the plants that are planted in soil but not dug soil as I’m building up to covering all the area with compost when I can produce enough. But the areas where I have covered are amazing I hardly have any just a few but so easy to manage it just proves that compost is the solution to growing all plants with minimal effort 👍ps I hope to visit your place one day and see the master at work as I’ve learnt so much from you thanks Charles for all your hard work showing us novices on growing plants 👍

    1. Cheers Barry, well done on progress and I am pleased to be able to help. I hope to meet you here one day 😀

  17. I think rabbits are having a good year! We have 3ft tall of wire mesh around the veg. patch which previously has kept out the rabbits, but this year with so much lovely veg. growing earlier than ever before thanks to your books, videos and no-dig Charles, the baby rabbits have squeezed through the mesh. Not only pea and mangetout have been drastically grazed, but dill, fennel, lettuce, beetroot leaves, radish and turnip tops!! Thankfully the potato bed survived with no munching and 1 bed was under enviromesh, so lettuces and calabrese were fine. Surprisingly they didn’t nibble the carrot tops! Now the other beds are netted, and everything except the mangetout and peas look like they will be fine. Even with the rabbits, we’ve had lettuce, radish, turnip, dill, coriander etc. From the garden – better than ever before, so thank you 😀. I’ll be replacing the wire mesh around the veg. patch with a finer gauge of wire as I’m guessing there will be lots more baby rabbits!!

      1. I moved everything that wasn’t in the poly tunnel up a storey last year as we had so much lost to rabbits. We are in a very rural area of the highlands and bounded by grazing and forest, beautiful but a haven for wildlife and fencing had done little over the past ten years to keep them out. Pallet collars, three high deter all unless they can pole vault. However, I experienced absolute carnage over the space of just a few nights last autumn and lost everything, even in the poly tunnel. Brassicas were gnawed down to stumps, carrots, parsnips and celeriac vanished without a trace and even the leeks didn’t escape. As most of the outside crops were also netted I suspect it may have been voles of which we also have an abundance. My husband bought me a wildlife camera for Christmas which while it won’t stop the foraging will at least allow me to put up ‘wanted’ posters.
        On a positive note, having had my son and his family move in at the start of lockdown I was able to keep us well supplied through the summer using your method of planting in modules and immediately filling the gaps. Where have you been all my gardening life?! I’m about to collect my pension and this method would have increased yields so much. Thank you for your wealth of knowledge so willingly shared.

        1. Hello Liz and my word this sounds such a challenge.
          I wonder why voles suddenly moved in.
          I am pleased to have been able to help a little! Hope summer goes well.

          1. Goodness me! What an early start! Gardening up here is always a challenge
            And has been a huge adjustment having moved from Surrey 12 years ago. I have to sit on my hands every year to stop myself sowing seeds which can’t possibly be planted out and sit reproachfully on the window ledge getting more and more leggy and pallid. We had our last fall of snow in May and so even with double fleece we are much later to get going. However we do seem to catch up and patience is rewarded with long long days which make me soon forget the tedium of the long winter.

  18. Hi Charles,
    Following on from my question from last month on manure deliveries and possible pyralid contamination, I have since sown broad beans in some of my heaps, as the older ones will have squashes planted in them, so far so good!
    However, having read some of the blogs, it prompts me to ask if mixing in grass cuttings, other vegetable waste, cardboard etc helps to dilute or eradicate the pyralid compounds…….my compost bays are approx 3x3m square, hemmed in on 3 sides to approx 1.2m (Euro type pallets), and have been adding barrows of grass cuttings etc and mixing it in, so have been turning the heap fairly regularly so far.

    1. Fair points Steve. However if the manure does have pyralids, you will be poisoning those other lovely ingredients.

  19. It breaks my heart to hear of plants being destroyed due to chemicals. How do you recover from such devastation?
    Homemade (compost) is best made compost. I Grow comfrey good all purpose fertilizer Chop and drop also tea and foliar spray. Utilize Grass clippings my own and select others, autumn leaves, weeds (composted and used in weed tea), worm castings, wood chips. Coffee grounds, tea waste, egg shells. All free.

  20. And hooray for the Twitter Growth Collective page. I didn’t know about it.

    Fortunately, I’ve never had problems with my horse muck (boluses collected off the field). I get my hay directly from a local farmer who says he hasn’t had to use herbicides on his grassland for some time now. They manage their place very well.

    I guess it is a matter of asking around to see who makes hay in one’s local area, finding out if they use herbicides and then asking the muck offerer where their hay comes from. A lot of faff but could be worthwhile.

    Another compost addition could be garden centre waste. Ask at the garden centres what happens to the plants they can’t sell. One of my fellow Ryton Garden volunteers tells me that he gets lots of old compost that way.

    I also am lucky get local reused peat from a firm in my village that grows moss for replanting on the Derbyshire moors. Used in my compost, as mulch and in potting mixes, it works well, although depleted of whatever nutrients it eventually had.

  21. Thanks for the frank and honest sharings of your set backs and difficulties, not just now, but over the years. Those are particularly helpful to learn from

    I’m especially sorry to hear about your Czar beans germination failure as their protein is to valuable. Hopefully you got seed from another source? I hope the rest of the saved beans were still edible.

    Looking forward to coming to see your New Land progress with the Biodynamic Garden visit on 6th June.

    1. Absolutely agree with your post. Charles’s admissions that not everything goes perfectly are vital to his tremendous value as teacher and advisor. Don’t feel so bad admitting that I have had to replace several courgette plants, put out in early May here in Norfolk. They weren’t frosted: they just didn’t thrive, and gradually faded out. Green ones seem slightly hardier. Pyralid items are frightening: I bought a bale of hay from a local farm in February to make my compost heap more balanced. There was no straw left on the farm. I didn’t ask at that time what they might use. Hope it will be OK, but will spread that lot on shrub/bulb area in November, not vegetable plot, just in case – and learn from these blogs to be more canny.

  22. Czar beans, I also had to harvest them underripe last autumn and because I had to dry them to store I concluded they were probably not viable. So I bought seed but even those have germinated very poorly. First sowing 0% a second sowing 15% both undercover. So it might not be just your home saved seed. Could it be the weather?

    1. Hi Sue, it was the beans I am sure, look at the 100% growth of Borlotti’s in the same tray, sown same time, it’s a shame!

  23. Morning Charles, I’m a new gardener and my vegetable are looking great, yesterday I was wondering I have put butterfly netting over my crops and had the horrible thought that the bees can’t pollinate my beans, only I have loots off flowers on my broad beans and no beans as yet.
    Should I remove it, only I also have broccoli in the same bed and last year suffered from caterpillars. If only you could see how wonderful my garden looks thanks to you, love you Charles.

    Kind regards Jo

    1. Great to hear Josie!
      Your beans do not suffer from caterpillars, and they they do not overwinter in soil. The only plants which might need protection are brassicas such as kale and cabbage and broccoli

      1. Sorry didn’t explain my self properly, the netting cover all the vegetables, but will it effect the bean if the bees can’t get to the flowers.

        Regards jo.

    2. Don’t worry, peas and beans will self pollinate – had them under mesh last year, no problem.

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